A BULLET FROM CHEKOV'S GUN

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A Whisper Against the Powder

AN: This is a special update just for Cris ( judo_lin). Happy Birthday, sweetie.

The content of this chapter takes place quite a bit into the future compared to where ABFCG is. If you don't want any spoilers, I'd advise waiting. I'll give you a heads-up as to when this part comes up in the sequence.

I felt my pulse in my fingertip pressed against the trigger housing of my rifle. The letters AI AWSM, laser-etched along the side, were starting to fill with ice crystals. I was interred several inches beneath the cold, dry Alaskan snow, the mound above me indistinguishable from the drifts nearby. The night was clear, quiet; as still as the death I was about to deliver to the unfortunate souls positioned in guard towers around the compound. I followed their half-hearted patrols in my sights and waited for the kill order.

I didn't know what the owners of the compound had done; I didn't particularly care. I'd barely had time to grab my kit and board the plane over the Pole after Emmett told me about this op. The other team members had given me only the most cursory briefing, instead focusing on detailing the role I was expected to play in their breach. I would have preferred a more central position, more offensive—sniping wasn't my favorite thing—but beggars couldn't be choosers. The simple fact was, whoever was down there, they were evil. They had to fucking die. End of.

I breathed in, out, in, out slowly. My breaths were timed to my heartbeat, one inhale or exhale per four thumps and growing slower. I was more than a mile out, far beyond the ostensible maximum range of my weapon. More misinformation. I was within the weapon's capabilities—I'd make the shot.

I watched the light snow fall and gauged windage. North-northwest, 2.5 mph. I looked down my scope and turned down the knob another click. I adjusted for the Coriolis Effect. The guards weren't even bothering to pace anymore, huddling instead around heaters in their towers, cupping mugs of coffee. I watched one spike his. They'd have to venture out again at determined intervals, and I'd pick them off then. Until then, I kept them in my sights.

My position on this ridge allowed me a spectacular position of advantage. Not only did I have the high ground and exquisite sight lines on the compound, I could also cover my team's exfil/infil routes. I couldn't see them now, but I knew the three other agents that had HALOed in with me were making their way down the mountains surrounding the compound. They'd wait in the trees until I got the signal and took out first the guards, then the floodlights that made the grounds bright as noontime, despite the late hour. Any minute now.

The op manager, miles away in a remote command post, would disagree, but I was rapidly realizing that I'd gotten into position too early. I was set up, there wasn't anything more to prepare. So, against my will, my mind wandered.

Brown eyes, brown hair. Images of scenes—some seen firsthand, some overheard via listening device, some simply imagined—played in my mind. Bella, laughing and smiling; humming to herself as she cooked in her flat; concentrating as she worked in her office at my 'headquarters'. Lounging on the couch in my lonely flat, watching movies with my head in her lap. Her shoulders shook a little when she bit her lip, trying not to laugh at me—the girl makes me stupid. The way she chewed on the end of her pen when she was thinking. When I finally broke down and kissed her in my office. Her face as I fucked her: hard, beneath me, then gently; hard again, after I flipped her onto her stomach; on her knees—fuck! Bloody hell. My heart rate increased, and I couldn't get it to calm again. I breathed, struggled desperately to focus. This couldn't be happening.

It looked like I had my answer: I couldn't be both a spy and something more to Bella Swan. Even if I could be her—what, boyfriend?—adequately, if I could somehow get around all the lies and be a good man for her, I couldn't do my job at the same time. Despite everything, I still loved my job. A liar, a killer, many times over. And as soon as the order crackled over my headset, I'd be a killer again. That is, I would if I could even make the shot now.

Bella deserved better than a killer. I wanted her, wanted her desperately. I did want to be her boyfriend. More than that, I wanted her to know me, all of me. To be the first and only person who really knew me, not some elaborate lie of a cover. Even if she could handle the lies—I knew by now I could trust her to keep my secrets, I just didn't want her to have to—she couldn't handle the death. She shouldn't have to.

My breathing sped; little puffs of condensation appearing and disappearing like sprites, teasing me. Despite the inexorable truths that made a wall between me and what I wanted, I still wanted it. A girl, the only girl in the world like her. Bella. Warm, soft, Bella. The harder I tried to calm down, the more frantic I became. Bella's face flashed through my mind, the sum total of our experiences together: her telling me off at that party, greeting me at Masen Industries, that snapshot of her on the beach. Grotesquely they morphed, her face shifting to take the place of those whose lives I've taken. Bella, being shot between the eyes. Bella, looking up at me with those gorgeous brown eyes, the intelligent light fading from them as I coldly snap her neck. Bella, gasping for breath as I choke her with my bare hands. A garrote, or a knife. Poison. Torture.

Oh God, what if she were captured? Even if she just worked at a desk at MI6HQ—or, hell, never even set foot in the building, just communicated electronically—any association with me would raise suspicions. What if MI6 couldn't protect her? What if I couldn't protect her? She's already been targeted once. What if I hadn't gotten there in time?

Bound, naked, to a gurney, electrodes being touched to her perfect skin. Pulling out her toenails, fingernails, teeth. Shallow cuts. Or maybe, depending on who her captors were, they'd be more careful, and leave no lasting marks. Painfully loud music—or a baby's cries—on an endless loop. Keeping her awake for days at a time, until her brilliant mind caved. Forced chemical dependency. Rape.

If I hadn't have bit my lip then—bit it until it bled—I'd have screamed. I slumped over my rifle, shaking with the effort to keep myself quiet. I watched the white of the snow turn starkly red. Drip, drip, drip, three drops. I had to let her go, to kill any interest in me that I may have formed. Bella said she knew the truth, that she wasn't afraid, but she didn't really know— and how could she not be afraid? Everything I wanted with her, a life, love, bloody marriage and someone to come home to, it shimmered and wavered in front of my eyes, the warmth of the mirage a mockery of my snowy hideout. Any loss of control, like the one that was commanding me now, was suicidal at the very best—and now I was endangering the rest of the agents on the op. I couldn't do this, wouldn't do this, not to her or to me or to them. I wouldn't.

"Edward."

I gasped loudly. Bella's voice whispered in my ear like she was lying next to me, in my bed, warm and sleepy on a Sunday morning. I could almost feel her fingers running through my hair; her lips on my lips, my throat, my jaw.

"It's too late."

"Never say that!" I'd snapped at her, at the time thinking she meant it was too late to get out of her contract with Military Intelligence. But no, that wasn't it. She cared for me too, enough to overlook what I was—or to at least try to.

Fucking hell. Bloody fucking hell.

"It's too late."

Maybe it is, Bella. Maybe it is.

That single thought stopped all of the horrific images from running through my mind. Stopped them cold. I was panting like I'd run a mile, flat-out, at high elevation. But my mind was clear. The relief was exquisite; delicious. A calm levity spread through my body. The chaos and tumult had vanished, like my warm breath in the frigid air. I was sure of my course now. Looking out into the snowy valley, I saw Bella's face, just the same, but I could also see past it. I could breathe again. I was ready. Hell, I was eager. I chuckled under my breath. So simple.

All I'd had to do was give in.

"Mike Sierra one-five, Mike Sierra one-five. Standby for go."

"This is Mike Sierra one-five. Standing by."

I slid the bolt back on my rifle. I could hear the soft whisper of the arctic lubricant against the painted-white metal. Downrange, the guards were preparing to patrol the grounds. I settled my crosshairs over the large one the intel indicated was the chief of security. Center mass was an easier target, so maybe I was showing off a little when I targeted his head.

"Mike Sierra one-five, go."

I waited for the lull between heartbeats, then pulled the trigger. The chief of security's head exploded on his shoulders.

AN2: Thanks to my beta, Sara ( abadkitty).

Notes:

AI AWSM: Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Super Magnum. It's a fucking huge sniper rifle, as I'm sure you've gathered. It currently holds the record for longest shot made. Accuracy International's weapons are manufactured in England and used by the British Army, among others.

Windage: Sniper/marksman term for wind direction and speed.

Coriolis Effect: Describes the movement of objects within a rotating frame of reference. Most people know it as the explanation for why toilets flush the direction they do depending on the hemisphere you're in. A sniper in Edward's situation would have to factor it in, given the extreme parameters under which they're operating. When you're trying to hit a target the size of a quarter from a mile off, an inch's worth of drift matters.

Exfil/Infil: Exfiltrate/Infiltrate. Getting out and getting in.

HALO: High Altitude, Low Opening. To defeat radar and achieve a stealthy insertion, the operative will jump from a very high altitude (15,000-35,000 feet) and wait until the last possible moment to open their parachute—in fact, the timing is so critical, they now have an electronic device linked to an altimeter to open the chute automatically. HALO is fucking dangerous: low oxygen at high altitude, possibility of decompression sickness, the risk of the auto-open device failing and the jumper coming to ground too fast (and at best, breaking a ton of bones, and at worst, dying). It's a technique reserved for the BAMFiest soldiers. They did one in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Breathing control techniques, etc: absolutely accurate. Top-flight military snipers train in all sorts of extreme conditions, including under the snow. They're trained to shoot between the pulses of their heartbeat to ensure accuracy. (N.B. Reading about sniping online is fucking scary. Lots of red and black fonts.)

"Mike Sierra:" NATO phonetics for the letters "M" and "S." (Nothing to do with Mike Newton, I assure you). Bonus points if you get the Twi-nerd reference.